For a while now I have been wanting to get better at photographing landscapes. I want to take images that I feel convey the beauty of the places I visit more atmospherically than my iPhone camera will allow and with less hassle than my digital camera presents. For me, shooting film has been the answer.
Falling out of love with digital
In addition to my iPhone I own a Nikon DSLR but I can rarely be bothered to take it out out of the house because it is cumbersome and also because I’ve found that the images I shoot with it rarely captivate me. They always seem to be rather flat and uninteresting, like poor facsimiles of the subject itself, and so I invariably revert back to my phone.
I had been considering getting a better lens for my Nikon or a perhaps a mirrorless camera, to help me create more beautiful images but I had a suspicion that I would spend a huge amount of money to buy something that would ultimately languish in the drawer alongside my bulky DSLR.
The mindfulness of taking just one photo
Lauren was a guest on my first Devon Experience in October and I was enthralled by how different her approach to photography was from mine. My MO, perhaps because of a lack of confidence in my abilities, has been to take a hundred photos of the same thing in a panic, and hope that one will turn out all right. In contrast Lauren would simply stop, compose herself, compose her shot, take her exposure, and carry on walking. Shot. Singular. Just the one.
I was drawn to how considered Lauren’s approach was. I even loved how she would walk away from the group to sit down at a table and change her film roll, ignoring the world around her and taking a minute to herself in the midst of whatever we were doing. What I realised from spending time with Lauren in Devon is that film photography isn’t just another medium, it’s a way of life, a philosophy. It’s an intention to slow down and be more present in every moment. By the time we’d left Devon I was hooked, even though I hadn’t taken a single photo on film.
My new old camera
Once she returned to America Lauren very kindly sent me the film camera she had learnt on, a Pentax K1000, for me to try. I instantly fell in love with its vintage look and mechanical nature. It feels almost like an Edwardian wind-up toy. There are no beeps or whirrs, no LED screen and no flashing lights. It has no auto setting, no auto focus and certainly no WIFI transfer. I love it for the absence of all of these things and I adore the satisfying, leaden ‘thunk’ as the shutter releases. By the time we’d left Devon I was hooked, even though I hadn’t yet taken a single photo on film.
Learning to shoot on manual
I have been shooting on film for three months now and am captivated by the whole process. There is a lot to learn, but none of it is especially hard or unattainable. The simplicity of my analogue camera has removed so much of the confusion I’ve felt when trying to master my DSLR. After just a few weeks I am really beginning to understand in practice the triangle of ISO, f-stop, and shutter speed, a concept that I have only understood intellectually before. With fewer options available, it’s become far, far easier to make the right choices for the image I want to take. And, wonderfully, because there is so little clever technology to override the inadequacies in my skills, I very much feel that I have created these images, rather than my camera, by simply choosing how to much light to allow in.
Taking fewer images and being more present
Using a film camera has made me more judicious about what I shoot. Because of the expense and finite number of exposures on a roll I take far fewer images. And because I can no longer shoot in low light, sometimes I just don’t take my camera with me, keeping some moments just for me, which feels like a quiet revolution in the constantly switched on world in which we live. I’m finding that I’m planning ahead to take photos, rather than snapping away when I am on an errand for other reasons. The camera roll on my phone is filling up much, much more slowly as my inclination to use my phone wanes in the knowledge I just won’t like the results as much as with my Pentax.
Trusting your camera
What I’ve learnt most from my endeavours is that you have to reset your expectations and trust your camera. With digital photography our cameras can more or less take accurate images of what we are looking at, and I think this is perhaps what I’ve been finding uninspiring. At first I was disappointed with the scans I received back from the lab. Scenes just didn’t look how I had remembered them but once I’d adjusted my perceptions, the most wonderful thing happened, I began to see the world through my camera’s eyes and not my own.
Revealing magical new worlds
My Pentax shows me different worlds that were sitting right under my nose. Clear waters become bottomless black pools and white icy landscapes turn into pastel oil paintings. My film images seem to have a depth and dimension that I’ve never been able to create with digital photography. When my images come back from the lab I discover a stack of perfect little lands, mini-Narnias, that I can hold my hand, places I couldn’t even imagine in my head.
It’s safe to say I am hooked on film photography. It has brought a huge amount of joy into my life already. The film community is incredibly warm and welcoming and I’m so happy to see some of my friends picking up film cameras to give it a go too. The whole process has been a voyage of discovery, from which film stock to choose for my preferred colour palette, to how to choose a lab and learn to speak a common language.
I’ve had my ups and downs and disappointments of course but that’s all part of the journey. I love the anticipation of waiting for my scans to arrive, to see if my effort and concentration has resulted in successful exposures. I appreciate my images, and the wonder of photography, all the more now that it feels like a collaborative venture between me and my beloved Pentax.
This summer we spent eight days travelling around British Columbia in an RV. We put our phones away and recorded the entire trip in analogue. Here is what happened.
Shooting on film is unpredictable, inconvenient, expensive and restrictive. But these are also the very things that make it compelling, addictive, joyful and life-enhancing.